Speakers at Georgetown summit offer strategies for cutting U.S. poverty

Categories: Nation/World

WASHINGTON (CNS) — In ideas big and small, speakers at Georgetown University’s Catholic-evangelical summit on overcoming poverty offered strategies to cut poverty in America.

The Rev. Melanie DeBouse, pastor of Evangel Chapel in Philadelphia outlined the situation in her poverty-stricken neighborhood, where the poor live in what she called “abandominiums,” with families occupying different sections of different floors of vacant dwellings.

“Once a month I allow them to line up against the wall of my church to give them 50 pounds of food,” Rev. DeBouse said. “We give them all that we have, but we can’t give them all that they need.”

The children aren’t learning social or vocational skills, she added. “Ask them what they want to be, and they’ll say, “I wanna play ball, I wanna be a rapper.’ That’s who’s setting the example for them,” Rev. DeBouse said.

U.S. President Barack Obama discusses ways the nation can can address poverty May 12 during the Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit on Overcoming Poverty at Georgetown University in Washington. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn) See POVERTY-OBAMA May 12, 2015.

U.S. President Barack Obama discusses ways the nation can can address poverty May 12 during the Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit on Overcoming Poverty at Georgetown University in Washington. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

She said she sees education as the way out — “an educated populace is an employable populace,” she added — but her neighborhood is rife with “three generations or more the education system has failed.”

Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on a panel with Rev. DeBouse and three others May 11, said, “I feel grateful and guilty,” explaining that he was adopted and had a stable home life, and later became a Christian. But “the other four (of his siblings) have suffered with some severe difficulties.”

Daly promoted marriage as a key to combating poverty. “To keep marriages together is the best way to keep families together,” he said. “Keep marriage strong, reduce divorce rates and we’ll reduce poverty.”

Mary Jo Bane, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, and a Catholic active in her parish, noted that young couples with stable jobs and good futures are more likely to marry, but noted “the change in the economic structure that had led to the difficulty and the reluctance of young men and women to get married.”

Men in many poor neighborhoods either don’t have jobs or are in jail, Bane said. Women, she added, are more likely to want to have a baby. “Guys would like to be a good dad, but there are no jobs,” she said, and lack of income can even get someone thrown out of public housing projects.

“Poverty does diminish people. It diminishes their own sense of responsibility,” said Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, California. The poor, he added, “depend on our willingness to walk with them.”

He noted that Catholic institutions such as schools and hospitals were built with an eye to building up the immigrant Catholic population in the United States of past generations.

The poor have been ignored on the election trail, according to Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, who had been chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush. “I’ve been at the center of three presidential campaigns where the mantra is the middle class,” he said.

The conditions that foster poverty “are really durable and difficult and multifaceted,” Gerson said. “Republicans really need to consider this set of issues seriously,” adding that part of the success in halving extreme poverty around the world came at the expense of decent-paying factory jobs in the United States.

“We don’t have to agree on the policy,” Gerson said, “but we have to agree on the diagnosis.”

Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, responded May 12 to remarks made by President Barack Obama on poverty.

“We’ve gotten into a partisan moment where we substitute a moral consensus about how we serve the least of these, our brothers and sisters, where we pretend that that moral consensus is impossible,” Brooks said, “and we blow up policy differences until they become a holy war. That’s got to stop because it’s completely unnecessary.”

He added, “When you talk about people as your brothers and sisters, you don’t talk about them as liabilities to manage. They’re not liabilities to manage. They’re assets to develop because every one of us made in God’s image is an asset to develop.”

The social safety net, according to Brooks, is “one of the greatest achievements of free enterprise — that we could have the wealth and largesse as a society, that we can help take care of people who are poor that we’ve never even met. It’s ahistoric; it’s never happened before. We should be proud of that.”

Brooks said lawmakers should “declare peace” instead of war on the safety net, but also take care of the “truly indigent,” pair government aid with work, and — without listing any examples — do something about “middle-class entitlements” that create a bigger burden on government than tax loopholes for hedge-fund managers.